Our olfactory heritage: researcher preserves scents before they're lost forever

Smell is perhaps more closely intertwined with memory than sight, sound, or any other of our senses. Indeed, scents are an incredibly important part of history and culture. That's why Cecilia Bembibre and her colleagues at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage are working to preserve certain smells for the ages. After all, smells are "the olfactory heritage of humanity," she says. ”From the BBC:

But how do you capture something as intangible as a historical scent? One method involves exposing a polymer fibre to the odour, so that the smell-causing chemical compounds in the air can stick to it. Then Bembibre analyses the sample in the laboratory, dissolving the compounds stuck to the fibre, separating them and identifying them. The resulting list of chemicals is effectively a recipe for the scent.

Another method separates and identifies the compounds directly from the gas sample – an approach commonly used in the perfume, food and beverages industry, as it allows volatile odour-active compounds to be identified. A third way is to use the nose itself, either by asking panels of people to describe certain smells, or by asking expert “noses”, who may be perfumers or scent designers.

“We characterise the smell from the human point of view,” adds Bembibre. “This is important because if we want to preserve it for the future, it depends on many factors. Not only the chemical composition but also our experience.”

Bembibre has chemically extracted the smells of old leather gloves, ancient books and mould Bembibre has chemically extracted the smells of old leather gloves, ancient books and mould, among other things.

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Car explodes after driver sprays too much air freshener and lights cigarette

In Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, a gentleman's car exploded after he reportedly sprayed "excessive" amount of air freshener and then lit a cigarette. From the BBC News:

Gas from the spray ignited, blew out the windscreen and windows and buckled the doors but the man escaped with only minor injuries.

Police said the incident in Halifax on Saturday "could've been worse" and warned people to follow safety advice.

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School bus evacuated due to overwhelming stench of Axe body spray

On Monday, Manatee County, Florida students were evacuated from a school bus after someone sprayed too much Axe body spray. WFTS reports that "according to school officials, the bus carrying Buffalo Creek Middle School students had to remove students off the bus because of the strong odor."

And from the Parrish Fire District's Facebook page:

Early this evening our District along with MCEMS responded to a reported hazardous materials incident on board a Manatee County School Bus. Crews arrived on scene to find fifteen students with mild respiratory irritation. All students were triaged and prioritized according to their initial complaint. It was a unified command decision to call out secondary bus to be dispatched to pick up the stranded students and remotely transport to the local High School for a limited access lot to provide security and accountability for parents to pick up students. Manatee Co. School Board reps along with the Sheriffs Office set up a coordinated pick up area.

At this time, the incident is being ruled a prank, as a deodorant / aerosol body spray was discharged on the bus. This is still a active on-going Investigaion in which bus cameras will be reviewed and further interviews conducted.

All 30 students on the bus were accounted for and treated and released with refusals to be be transported by EMS.

(Thanks to Florida bureau chief Charles Pescovitz!)

image: "Large collection of Axe products" by Dannycas (public domain) Read the rest

Scientists discover a soil fungus that neutralizes skunk odor

The smelly compounds that skunks squirt when threatened are called thiols and are notorious hard to eliminate from humans and dogs who get spray with them. Tomato juice merely temporarily overpowers the stench, and commercial products are mostly junk or dangerous. But researchers recently discovered a fungal compound in Alaskan soil that actually neutralizes thiols, reports Chemical and Engineering News:

The researchers reacted pericosine A with different skunk thiols and found that it converted them into odorless compounds, reducing the thiol levels to a point at which they were undetectable by the human nose.

...

There’s nothing like skunk odor, [Robert H. Cichewicz, a natural products chemist at the University of Oklahoma] says, to expose the shortcomings of a lab’s hood system. And once he made the mistake of wafting his hand over a sample of pure anal gland secretions. It was, he says, “the nasal equivalent of staring at the sun.”

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Bic perfume in packaging inspired by their lighters

In 1989, Bic, makers of pens, shaving razors, and, of course, lighters, launched Parfum Bic. I really like the packaging inspired by cigarette lighters! Maybe the original idea was that the scent would cover up the stale funk of cigarette smoke. Weird Universe found this bit from a Detroit Free Press article at the time:

Made entirely in France and packaged in little portable spritzers that look more than a bit like Bic lighters, Parfum Bic will retail for just $5 a quarter-ounce, one-tenth the price of a typical French perfume. Parfum Bic already is selling briskly in Europe, the company reports. Already, cocooned in decidedly downscale blister packs, the product is hitting the speed racks of American supermarkets, drug and variety stores. With this product, Bic hopes to create a whole new low-price perfume category by advancing the notion of perfume as a product that can be bought and used spontaneously.

"Bic Perfume" (Weird Universe)

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Public library's card catalog and books linked by scent

In 1974, Upper Arlington, Ohio public library launched a program to link their card catalog and shelved books by odor. The project was called: "Stick Your Nose in the Card Catalog." From Weird Universe:

The idea was that the card in the catalog would have a scent, and then the book on the shelf would have a matching scent. So you could find your books by smell. There were about 60 scents in total, including apple, chocolate, garlic, lemon, roses, root beer, leather, pizza, orange, strawberry, candles, pine, cheddar cheese, clover, and smoke.

The library says that they "aren't sure what exactly happened to the scented catalog, but we guess that the cards eventually lost their scent over time, but remained part of the catalog until it was decommissioned" for a digital system in 1989. Read the rest